Cult of Personality by Mercedes

I clearly remember the images. Hundreds of dead people baking in the hot sun, millions of flies buzzing about. As these imagers were broadcast tirelessly on every channel for days, I soaked up the shocked vibes of the grown ups around me; I watched the news and listened as adults discussed the Reverend Jim Jones and Jamestown. Even today, decades later, my mind will sometimes flash back to the horrifying images I saw back then on the television screen: hundreds of men, women, and children dead because they drank the Kool-aid. Drinking of their own free will because one man ordered them to do so. Why? How could they?

Because of Jim Jones, I have long had a morbid fascination with the psychology of the charismatic leader whose sheep obey every command-- the deranged minds of powerful people who control other humans with religion. Jim Jones, David Koresh, Peter Lucas Moses, Jr., and Michael Ryan. These are just a few of the men Cindy and I have researched, talked about, and will talk about in recent and upcoming episodes. We both have an insane curiosity to know what, exactly, makes these people tick? What makes a human being commit sadistic, unspeakable acts just because someone demanded it? How can anyone blindly and without question follow the insanity of a charismatic psychopath?

Each of these sadistic leaders used similar tactics to "enslave" his followers. Each of them isolated his followers from family and friends; each of them espoused the teachings of an angry God who would light the way for the righteous followers in the battle between good and evil. In each of these cases, the charismatic leader prophesied a war: often it was a war against the government like Michael Ryan, David Koresh, and Jim Jones; often it spouted racist eugenic theories. In at least two of these cases, the prophesied war was a race war where one race would reign supreme. If you followed Ryan, you believed in white supremacy. If you followed Peter Moses, Jr., you believed in black supremacy. Each man prophesied a fiery war and the need to stock weapons and ammunition. Each man took multiple wives, practicing polygamy because it was ordained by God. It did not matter to these men that a woman might already be married to someone else. It did not matter to these men if the victim was even of legal age. Each man took the woman or child he wanted when he wanted her; his flock stood by and allowed it. Each man ordered the abuses and deaths of others in the name of God. What type of person would kill a child in the name of God? These men did.

What type of people fall for the rhetoric of these leaders? Carolyn Steber, in her article "If you exhibit these 9 personality traits you're more likely to join a cult", describes nine personality traits of people easily manipulated by a cult-like leader. First, leaders prey on loners or people who lack self-confidence. These people crave acceptance and love, so they are susceptible to rare kindnesses and attention from people they admire. Charismatic leaders often isolate students who are open to drug use and "free thinking". Charismatic leaders possess a strength that attracts the depressed, the grief stricken, the angry, the questioning, the sick, the poor, the mentally ill, and even the conspiracy theorists. When a leader asks followers to do something that may be outside their comfort zone, these followers will make excuses; they will rationalize strange and horrifying requests by normalizing them. And then, they will commit unspeakable acts, either to show their devotion to the cause, to avoid getting abused themselves, or even to avoid being murdered. The psychology of the cult mind, for both the leader and his followers, is vastly interesting and sick at the same time.

Steber, Carolyn. "If you exhibit these 9 personality traits you're more likely to joing a cult. 21 June 2018.

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